Because I need to be writing my "self-appraisal narrative" aka touchy-feely self-awareness cheatsheet for my boss (in all fairness, she asked me to do this for my own good, so she can use it to write nice recommendation letters for me), this will be fairly short.
Two years ago this morning it was cold and sunny. Sunday morning, so we were laying in bed trying to relax, trying to enjoy sleeping in, trying not to wake the dog (once she's awake, she wants to go out, you know how it is...). I turned on the TV, as is my usual AM routine on days when I don't have to go to school (as we used to put it "To see what blew up last night"), and found a FoxNews breaking story: "NASA reports that they lost communication with the shuttle Columbia, and we're waiting to see if it arrives at Kennedy Space Center for landing". I immediately woke up my Darling Husband, and made a couple of calls to CA. I knew this was bad. I remember they cut to FL, and the look on the reporter's face when it became clear that no shuttle was coming in to land, that this wasn't a simple communications malfunction. And then the horror of the first reports from TX of "debris".
I remember how terrified we were, was this a shuttle malfunction? Was it a missle? In a post 9/11 world, anything was possible. I remember feeling numb, but I had tears streaming down my face. This hit me pretty hard. Maybe because I had seen Columbia up close.
July 4, 1982, Edwards AFB. STS-4, the first landing at Edwards. President Reagan was there. And so was I. I was 5 years old. I remember we left after midnight (3am? 4am?) to drive down to Edwards for the 9am landing. I could hardly sleep in the car, I was so excited. I remember the pink sky as the sun rose, and my dad adjusting the rear-view mirror so the sunrise wouldn't blind him, and the gate into Edwards, the air force guys with their big guns. We pulled into the lot on the dry lake bed with everyone else and got out. The crowd was all lined up against a fence that ran parallel to the landing strip, several hundred yards away. It was sunny, and hot, and I remember my mother warning me about the sonic booms (I used to be terrified of fireworks) and covering my ears. We heard the booms, and saw the chase planes go by. Then all of a sudden, there she was, like a big boat with dragster 'chutes sliding down the sky. The shuttle seemed to fall so slowly, but when she touched down, she needed nearly all of the 15,000 foot runway to stop.
My dad bought me a bumper sticker that day. A picture of the shuttle in a blue sky with the words "We saw it land". Pretty damn cool. That thing hung in my room from that day until after I went to college, and now it's put away. Most people don't get that excited anymore, but when I catch a launch or a landing on TV, I still get the same feeling.
I've met nobel prize winners, politicians, and actors, but meeting astronauts was the coolest.
So I'll miss you Columbia, and what your service meant to our country and to the spirit of exploration. Never forget the brave scientists and explorers who saw her last mission:
Laurel Salton Clark